You call this even-handed? Refugee series is strictly for the gullible
One of the most passionate and enduring debates in this country has been built on a falsity, a false choice that is being carefully recrafted, repackaged and re-presented on SBS this week, at taxpayer expense.
A comment that sums up the falsity at the centre of this debate and the three-part seriesÂ Go Back to where You Came From came from one of the six manipulated participants in the show, Darren Hassan, who complained that the group was being subjected to enforced empathy.
He had seen the loaded dice at the centre of the progressive argument about boat people: that if you believe in stopping the small number of asylum seekers who arrive by boat, you are lacking in empathy, lacking in compassion, and probably anti-Muslim.
The entire series is designed to enforce this maxim. The participants are lied to. The audience is lied to. This is an empathy forced march.
In the first part, on Tuesday night, the unseen narrator said the participants had just ”survived a sinking, burning boat”. In fact it was an obvious charade.
We were told that ”at the last minute, the stricken boat is spotted”. Again, only for the gullible. The rescue was as false as the emergency.
he narrator told us that only ”1 per cent of the world’s refugees are resettled by the UN”. Again, a highly misleading statistic.
The empathy argument is easily turned on its head, something the producers carefully avoid doing. Far from lacking empathy, the decision to send a punitive signal to the people smugglers and their clients has been proven to stop the people-smuggling trade. Detention centres, instead of being opened all over the country, would empty out. Lives would not be lost at sea. Hundreds of millions of dollars would be spent on people instead of policing. More refugees could come to Australia under less stress and for less cost.
Because this debate is not about empathy. It is not about numbers. It is not about race. It is about principle: control the borders. The biggest beneficiaries of strict border control would be legitimate asylum seekers.
Much to the chagrin of the progressive side of politics, this argument is the one that has carried the day in Australia. After 15 years of being bashed over the head, especially by the ABC and SBS, the public has not budged. The Gillard Labor government could fall on this issue alone, given how badly it has been handled for almost four years. This year it will spend more than $750 million on illegal entries, an increase of 700 per cent over the final year of the Howard government.
The bedrock opposition of Australians to the empathy argument is quickly evident from the questions asked by some of the participants inÂ Go Back to where You Came from.
Adam Hartup: Why didn’t the boat people stay in Malaysia or Indonesia where they were in no danger?
Why do 99 per cent of them arrive with no papers?
Darren Hassan: Once they leave Malaysia, and then Indonesia, they become economic migrants. We need to send a tougher signal. People who are destroying documents, what are they trying to hide?
Raye Colbey (after visiting settled refugees from Africa who had come via the UN process): These are real refugees. They came the right way.
None of these basic questions were seriously addressed by the producers in their opening salvo. They had carefully sifted through 500 people before selecting the six for the program, and carefully chosen the refugees the participants would visit in Australia. But it would have been possible to randomly select six Australians, take them to a refugee camp, or to a newly arrived refugee’s home, and see a ramp-up in empathy in most cases. This series is about something else.
While the quality of the filmmaking is good, the laudatory descriptions of the program as being even-handed are overstated. It is stacked with commentary, from the narration, to the structure, to the guide, Dr David Corlett, who is immersed in the refugee industry, is highly political, and in 2003 wrote aÂ Quarterly Essay, ”Sending Them Home”, with Robert Manne. This is the producers’ idea of dispassionate objectivity.
Last August, the ABC’sÂ Four Corners presented a searing program, ”Smugglers’ Paradise”, which presented a far more accurate and confronting picture of the people smuggling trade to Australia. It was reality TV that was real. This new series has real people in real places, but it remains an exercise in manipulation for everyone involved.